2015 Riesling is “Outstanding”

Amber LeBeau looks at the 2015 Riesling:

The Geekery

When Stu and Charlie Smith bought 200 acres on the top of Spring Mountain in 1970, the area was so densely covered with Douglas Firs, poison oak and Madrones that they needed a logging permit to clear the land.

However, Stu Smith’s belief that the best grapes come from the hillsides encouraged him to plant in this area that still had remnants of old grapevine stakes from the 1880s.

Today, the Smiths focus on estate-grown fruit that is dry-farmed on their 200-acre ranch. In 2015, Smith-Madrone produced 685 cases of the Riesling.

The Wine

The stony flint notes adds some intriguing Old World elegance to this Riesling.

High-intensity nose. Green apple and apricot. Very fresh smelling. As the wine warms, petrol also shows up adding more complexity.

On the palate, the same high-intensity of the nose carries through with very vivid and intense green apple and apricot. The high, mouthwatering acidity also highlights some lime as well as a stony flint note that reminds me more of a Sancerre than a Riesling. Dry with medium body weight. Long-finish brings back the petrol but it’s not as intense as the fruit.

The Verdict

This is an outstanding Riesling that I’m disappointed that it took me this long to discover.

At $30-35, this is on the high-end for American Rieslings. But I’m not pulling your leg when I’m saying that this is, hands down, the best domestic Riesling that I’ve tried. I’m spoiled with a lot of great Washington State Rieslings but this tops them. I would put this Smith-Madrone more on par with minerally Trocken Rieslings from Germany.

However, the last Riesling that impressed this much was the Alsatian Cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach. While a different style, this Smith-Madrone is not that far off in quality and is certainly worth the splurge. If you can find it, grab it.

Cook’s Flat for Valentine’s Day

Michelle Williams in her Forbes column recommends the 2012 Cook’s Flat Reserve for a Valentine’s Day gift:

February 5, 2019

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide: The 10 Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons For Lovers

By Michelle Williams, February 5, 2019

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching–time to start thinking about wine. If red wine inspires romance, then a decadent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sex in a bottle.

Imagine a deep purple robe giving way to aromas of sultry dark fruit, opulent spice, and rich earth, all wrapped in a brooding crushed velvet mouth-feel. You are sure to find the perfect wine to ignite an evening of romance in the list below.

2012 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Napa Valley $225: Seductive—dark fruit, highly herbaceous, baking spice, graphite, dark chocolate, and cedar; tension between power and restraint, balanced and layered with beautiful structure; words lack in describing this beautiful wine. Limited production, purchase direct from winery.


“Elegant, refined” 2014 Cabernet

Our thanks to ACorkInTheRoad:

Chardonnay included in 50 Great Wines of 2018

The 2014 Chardonnay was included in Fredric Koeppel’s 50 Great Wines of 2018:

50 Great Wines of 2018, Fredric Koeppel, January 9, 2019

The “50 Great Wines of 2018” represent regions of France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and various AVAs in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and, of course, a wide range of grape varieties and styles of wine. Prices range from a fabulously low $15 to a pretty high $140, with plenty bottles falling into the sweet spot between about $20 and $30; a great wine does not have to be expensive. These are wines that I not only admired but loved during my reviewing last year. The roster could have been expanded by 10 or 12 wines, but I like to stick to 50 — as I have for many years — because that number forces me to be analytical as well as emotional and totally subjective. For the first time in preparing this annual list, I include snippets of the original reviews to lend My Readers some clues as to why I doted on particular wines. No technical information is included. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California. 850 cases. Exceptional.
“… amazing purity and intensity … crystalline tone and chiseled presence.”


Here was the review from June 2018:


12 California Chardonnays I Liked

You may be thinking apropos the title of this post, “F.K., why didn’t you just say ’12 California Chardonnays’? Why add ‘I liked’”? Because, Dear Reader, I don’t like many chardonnays made in California, so when I come across a dozen that I can write about together, I want to emphasize that fact. The reason, as you probably know from having been a devoted reader of this blog — bless your little pointy heads! — is that so many chardonnays from The Golden State are saturated with swamps of oak that I open even one with trepidation, and when I’m looking for an appropriate white wine to drink with dinner, I will open just about anything other than chardonnay. It’s a real crap-shoot, this whole chardonnay business. The wines reported on in this post age in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time and using various percentages of new barrels, but the important point is that all 12 achieve a state of balance among all elements, sometimes pushing the boundaries, it’s true, but sometimes that bold, risky factor adds a frisson of appreciation. Other selections here are more elegant and restrained. Today we range from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. Vintages represented are 2014, ’15 and ’16, with the ’14s really coming into a state of grace. These wines were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries and marketing people involved. 
How can a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged nine months in 100 percent new French oak barrels display such amazing purity and intensity, such crystalline tone and chiseled presence? Certainly, a factor must be the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vines that struggle to find nutrients in the hillside vineyard, sending roots ever downward in search of water. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, a favorite in our house whatever the vintage, offers a medium gold hue and arresting aromas of peach, pear and quince that unfurl notes of lemon balm and apple blossom, gunflint and limestone. Supernal in its lithe, supple texture and exquisitely poised between zephyr-like softness and riveting acidity, this chardonnay delivers spare and elegant citrus and stone-fruit flavors that culminate in a finish of glittering limestone minerality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. The Smith brothers concocted 850 cases. Exceptional.


Lonely Planet recommends a visit

Have you read Lonely Planet’s Wine Trails: Plan 52 Perfect Weekends in Wine Country?

On p. 296 you’ll find:


Fans of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will often be heard debating the respective merits of “mountain” Cabernet vs. those from the Valley floor. Those curious enough to taste the difference for themselves should head up  Spring Mountain to the rustic but welcoming winery of Smith-Madrone, where brothers Stu and Charlie Smith have been making some of the  Valley’s most under-rated Cabernet (not to mention Riesling and Chardonnay) since 1971. These are wines that not only taste great when they are young, but also age superbly if you have the patience to stick them away for a few years.

A visit to Smith-Madrone not only gives you the chance to spend time talking and tasting with some of the friendliest and most genuine winemakers in the business, it also offers up some of the most spectacular vistas in the entire Napa Valley. The old barn is full of charm….


2015 Riesling is pitch perfect

On December 22 Peg Melnik at The Santa Rosa Press Democrat recommends “wines that will impress:”

Playing host over the holiday? If so, be forewarned. In Wine Country, guests have high expectations; they feel entitled to have their palates pampered.

With top winemakers in this region rivaling the best on the planet, it won’t be hard to impress.

They are world-class experimenters who push the envelope. They don’t settle. These people don’t punch a timecard. On the contrary, they work crazy hours and it’s most evident during harvest when they are sleep-deprived for days on end.

The wines listed have been palate-tested and they’re prime examples of the best crafted in the region. They will no doubt prompt your guests to ask for another pour. When you fill their glasses, you can smile with peace of mind; these wines make you look good.
—Smith-Madrone, 2015 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Riesling, 12.9 percent. This complex riesling has layered notes of papaya, petrol and honeysuckle. It’s nice and dry, with bright acidity. Pitch perfect balance. Impressive.


“Reference-quality Riesling” for the holidays

26 Drinkable Gifts Fit for Any Occasion

by Gabe Sasso, December 20, 2018, TheDailyMeal

The 2018 holiday season is here, and it brings so many things with it. A big one is of course gift-giving, which is fun and gratifying but can also be time-consuming and stressful. Don’t worry, though, we’re here to make the process easier (and possibly even fool-proof). Nearly everyone has a wine or spirits lover on their gift list. The number of choices out there can be dizzying, but we have some amazing selections to share.

One of the great things about wine and booze as gifts is that concerns about size, style, and color go right out the window. A well-considered bottle of wine or hard alcohol always brings a smile from the recipient. As far as the “well-considered” part, we’ve got you covered.

Over the last few weeks we’ve tasted dozens of wines and spirits and selected 26 that are delicious, distinct, and a really good value. So whether your budget is less than $20 or over $500, you’re covered. This list comprises producers big and small, too, so whether you’re buying for someone who is going to be flattered by a well-known name or someone who leans toward lesser-known artisanal beverages, there’s a drinkable gift on this list for nearly everyone.

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2015 

There are a handful of riesling producers in Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone is the one that truly matters most. One vintage after another, they release reference-quality riesling that is delicious and often age-worthy. Peach and apricot aromas are joined by a hint of lilac. The palate is even-keeled with continuing stone fruit and a dollop of spice. The mineral-laden finish shows off a kiss of lemon curd. Firm acid provides a great backbone. Whether you drink it now or age it for a couple of decades, this wine showcases Smith-Madrone’s mastery of riesling.



2014 Cabernet, “an elegantly integrated mouthful”

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons For The Holiday Season

December 6, 2018

If you are looking to serve a special wine this holiday season or want to give a thoughtful gift to a wine lover in your life, look to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to make an impression.  Whether you want  a wine to serve for an elegant holiday dinner, a bottle to take to a special holiday party, or something for your boss who happens to be a wine aficionado, this list is all you need.  This is not just any list, here you will find small, off the grid wines that are produced in small quantities by some of the best winemakers in Napa Valley.  These wines are perfect holiday wines, elegant structured and very food friendly.

Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for intimate holiday dinners (Under $60)

Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 

Smith-Madrone wines are made entirely from dry-farmed estate vineyards surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vineyards, specifically southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Stu was named one of the wine industry’s most inspirational people in January 2018.

This wine opens with a concentrated nose of dark fruits, leading with notes of boysenberry and plum. The palate is remarkably seamless, an elegantly integrated mouthful with a velvety, silky texture which leaves you realizing how winemaking can ‘distill’ a grape into a powerful perfume, the essence of Cabernet Sauvignon.




“One of the best Rieslings made in California”


Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/2/18

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

Still in the white category, this week also included two ever-reliable sources of tastiness: the Falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania (ocean-air crisp and lean) and the Riesling from Spring Mountain producer Smith-Madrone, which, as usual is one of the best Rieslings made in California.

2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of petrol and pear and honeysuckle. In the mouth, lemon and pear flavors have a hint of tangerine and a touch of butterscotch as they crackle with excellent acidity across the palate. Wet-chalkboard minerality leaves a clean dry feeling on the palate with only the whisper of aromatic sweetness. 12.9% alcohol.